The biggest highlight of the 2021 Alpine World Cup season is that it even happened at all. Set amid a worldwide pandemic, this season’s World Cup Tour required some serious logistical maneuvering, flexibility from athletes and coaches, and countless Covid tests.
But despite the complications and the hassle, the 2021 World Cup Tour actually went off without any major glitches, giving World Cup fans around the world a much-needed weekly escape during some of the darkest months of the pandemic.
Even without cheering fans and packed grandstands, the best ski racers in the world gave it their all from October 2020 to March 2021, delivering spectacular racing and some mind-blowing recoveries. From Mikaela Shiffrin returning to the top of the podium to Ryan Cochran-Siegle distinguishing himself as the next big threat in men’s speed racing, here are SKI’s Top 10 highlights from the 2021 World Cup.
1. Mikaela Shiffrin claims her first World Cup victory in more than a year
Pandemic aside, Shiffrin had a rough go of it in 2020. Her father’s unexpected death in February of last year recalled Shiffrin from the World Cup just when she was zeroing in on the Downhill Crystal Globe, the only Globe she had yet to capture. Then, when she was ready to return to the start gate for the 2020 World Cup Finals in Åre, Sweden, the pandemic brought the world to a standstill. So Shiffrin’s win in the women’s World Cup giant slalom in Courchevel, France on December 14, 2020 was an emotional triumph, not to mention a show of technical perfection.
2. France’s Maxence Muzaton nose butters his way to a high-speed recovery
While France’s Maxence Muzaton, ranked 39th in the world in downhill, may not have been on many World Cup fans’ radars before this season, that changed on Feb. 14. Barreling down the men’s World Championship downhill course in Cortina, Italy, Muzaton executed a mind-blowing feat of athleticism to save himself from a high-speed crash. A nose-butter performed at 120 kilometers per hour saved Muzaton from a horrific crash and skyrocketed him to instant internet fame.
3. Cochran-Siegle establishes himself as a major threat in men’s super-G racing
The American rookie has been steadily climbing the ranks over the past three World Cup seasons and scored his first World Cup podium on Dec. 19, 2020 in the men’s World Cup in Val Gardena, Italy with a second-place finish. He then promptly followed that up with a career-first World Cup victory in the Bormio super-G on Dec. 29, proving that there are more great things to come for this American speed racer.
4. Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin is first to break the Shiffrin-Vlhova slalom streak
On Dec. 12, 2020, Switzerland’s Michelle Gisin became the first racer to end the dominance of Shiffrin and Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova in women’s World Cup slalom. Gisin, who has been within reach of the slalom podium since 2018, finally scored her first World Cup slalom victory under the lights of Semmering’s course.
5. Mikaela Shiffrin nabs her first slalom victory in more than a year
The best slalom skier in history struggled to find her footing in her best discipline at the start of the season (and by ‘struggle’ we mean she didn’t win—this is Shiffrin we’re talking about, after all). But on Jan. 12, 2021 Shiffrin once again managed to ski to her level of technical excellence on the slalom track in Flachau, Austria, to claim her first slalom victory in more than a year.
6. American Tommy Ford emerges as the U.S. Ski Team’s next great GS specialist
Young-gun Tommy Ford technically emerged as the next great GS specialist at the Birds of Prey race in December 2019, when he became the first American man to score a World Cup GS victory since 2017. But this season, he continued to prove himself as a long-term and serious threat in the men’s World Cup GS field after nabbing his third World Cup podium in the men’s GS in Santa Caterina, Italy.
7. Breezy Johnson scores her first World Cup podium in Val d’Isere
Downhiller Breezy Johnson has been one to watch ever since the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, where she surprised the world by finishing seventh in the women’s downhill. But after that Johnson was sidelined by back-to-back knee injuries for two seasons, and no one knew if she’d be able to climb back to her top performance level. On Dec. 12, 2020, Johnson put those doubts to rest when she nabbed a career-first World Cup downhill podium in Val d’Isere, France. She then went on to score three more podium finishes and round out the 2021 World Cup season ranked fourth overall in the women’s downhill standings.
8. Kiwi Alice Robinson annihilates the competition at World Cup Finals
The 17-year-old from New Zealand who burst onto the World Cup season in 2019 with a win over Mikaela Shiffrin struggled to find her footing through most of the 2021 season. Starting in January, she finally began to show what she’s capable of, steadily climbing back up the GS ranks. She then put her skiing on full display during the World Cup Finals in Lenzerheide, where she absolutely destroyed the competition in the final GS of the season. Robinson became the first woman to win three World Cup GS victories before the age of 20 since Yugoslavian skier Meteja Svet (1986-88).
9. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger beats Shiffrin by more than a second
We all love Shiffrin, but we also like healthy competition. Austria’s Katharina Liensberger gave us exactly that during the 2021 World Cup season. The slalom specialist steadily gained speed throughout the season to finally begin overtaking Shiffrin and Vlhova in the slalom events, and ultimately captured the World Cup Slalom Crystal Globe in Lenzerheide after besting Shiffrin and Vlhova by more than a second—a massive margin in slalom racing.
10. Paula Moltzan finds the podium in World Cup parallel event
U.S. Ski Teamer Paula Moltzan is always fun to watch. The slalom specialist has a way of skiing from the back of the pack to overtake seasoned World Cup veterans, a feat she accomplished on multiple occasions this season. But her standout performance actually came in the World Cup parallel event in Lech, Austria on Nov. 26, when she made it through qualifying rounds to take on Slovakia’s Petra Vlhova in the head-to-head finals. Moltzan ended up crashing out of the course in the second run, but the American still landed her first World Cup podium.